Home found for VA clinic

Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2001

A new clinic for Kenai Peninsula veterans will be located in the Benco Building at 11355 Frontage Road in Kenai, between Paradisos and KeyBank.

The VA announced Friday that it has finalized a lease for the Benco Building office now occupied by Peter Hansen, M.D., and the Kenai Medical Center Inc. Hansen said his office and the Kenai Medical Center will relocate within the same building.

The VA has hired internal medicine physician Ty Salness to staff its Kenai clinic. Salness previously practiced in Southeast Alaska and has worked with the VA in the Lower 48 states. The new clinic, slated to open in late September, also will employ two registered nurses and a medical clerk.

"It will be a complete outpatient facility," Hansen said.

Michael Bell, director of community affairs for the VA in Anchorage, said the clinic sprang from health-care concerns veterans raised during a meeting with VA officials at the Kenai Armory last July. To date, the VA has required peninsula veterans to travel to Anchorage for health services, allowing waivers only rarely, such as for veterans whose poor health precludes travel.

"Some drove themselves. Some bought airline tickets. We had a van pool Tuesdays and Thursdays. That's been going for four or five years. People were saying that's unacceptable," he said.

Veterans say the van leaves Kenai about 7 a.m. and often does not return until 6 or 7 p.m., so obtaining a prescription, blood test or a simple examination may require a 12-hour trip. The Kenai clinic will save hundreds of veterans from the drive.

"It was a real grass-roots effort that began down here," said Al Hicks, 54, local commander and department adjutant for the Disabled American Veterans, first vice officer for American Legion Post 20 and a leader in the campaign for a central peninsula clinic.

Bell said he expects the clinic to serve a clientele of 800 patients during its first year, 1,000 in its second and 1,100 during its third, through the numbers three years out are difficult to predict. The clinic generally will see patients only with scheduled appointments, he said, and the 565 central peninsula veterans who now use VA health facilities in Anchorage will be the top priority.

Hicks said that opening a local clinic may entice more of the central peninsula's 5,000 to 6,000 veterans to seek VA care.

"We're hoping that when it gets here, a whole lot of people are going to come for local care and support," he said. "Then it will be a growing thing, which is what we need."

Veterans' groups will try to schedule another town-hall meeting in July or August so that veterans can meet one on one with VA officials, he said.

Bell said running the VA clinic will cost $687,000 per year. That includes rent, salaries, janitorial service, utility bills and $80,000 to $100,000 per year to buy services such as radiology, laboratory, emergency and inpatient services from Central Peninsula General Hospital.

The VA physician will not admit patients to the hospital, he said. Instead, the VA will approach area doctors to serve as admitting physicians and hospital care providers. Bell said he hopes to meet with doctors to discuss their concerns, and hopes to negotiate agreements with the hospital on how emergency services and inpatient care will be handled.

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